By continuing to use this website, you agree to our updated Subscriber Terms and Conditions and Terms of Service, effective 6/8/23

Article Attribution Text (update)

A North Branch park: Mayor Lightfoot can make it happen

The General Iron Industries site along the North Branch of the Chicago River on Sept. 28, 2018.

When Lincoln Yards gets built on the North Side, the $6 billion mega-development is projected to bring to Chicago 23,000 new jobs and an economic shot in the arm to the tune of $4.5 billion yearly. While that’s an estimate, the upside benefit to Chicago clearly will be immense.

So far, however, there’s something important missing from the Lincoln Yards picture: green space. Cities need economic growth to flourish, but they also need park land, waterfront walks and other open areas for recreation and a respite from urban life. That’s where plans for Lincoln Yards have come up short.


Next door to Lincoln Yards is a large tract of industrial land that could become another cluster of glass and steel. Or it could become what North Siders say they desperately need— a verdant swath of parkland along the North Branch of the Chicago River.

The fate of the tract sits with Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the City Council. They should seize this opportunity.


General Iron Industries owns most of the site, about 21.5 acres. The metal recycling company is moving its operations to the Far South Side. General Iron has put its Lincoln Park site up for sale, the Tribune’s Ryan Ori reports. For would-be buyers, the clock is ticking. Prime real estate like the General Iron site tends to get snapped up quickly.

The site could end up in the hands of someone who builds more apartments, more offices, more stores. That would squander an ideal opportunity for Lightfoot to provide the city with an ambitious, bold new park. She wouldn’t have to start from scratch. The idea already exists. More than a year ago, Ald. Michele Smith, 43rd, and Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd pitched a proposal to build on the site. Their vision: The North Branch Park and Nature Preserve, a 24-acre riverfront park.

The idea has strong community backing. Ald. Brian Hopkins, 2nd, whose ward encompasses the site, also supports it. The $1.3 billion tax increment financing district that City Hall approved for Lincoln Yards includes language that would allow future property tax revenue to help pay for the cost of acquiring land for the park and building it.

Chicago Tribune Sports


A daily sports newsletter delivered to your inbox for your morning commute.

Land acquisition and park construction is expected to cost roughly $200 million. Before it’s too late, Lightfoot should do what it takes to make the park happen.

The TIF structure is what makes an acquisition feasible. But it shouldn’t just be taxpayers who foot the bill. Lincoln Yards’ developer, Sterling Bay, and other developers who will profit from the eventual redevelopment of the 760-acre North Branch Industrial Corridor should contribute. Why? Because builders that saturate already-congested neighborhoods with even more people and traffic should have to counterweight that impact with improvements that safeguard the community’s quality of life. In heavily congested communities like Lincoln Park and Bucktown, that includes adding parkland.

The city’s marquee parks give Chicagoans refuge from the workweek grind — a place to recharge, reconnect with friends, kick back. They also increase neighborhood desirability and property values. It’s hard to imagine Chicago without Millennium Park, Grant Park or Jackson Park. Imagine a park with similar scale and ambition on the North Side. It can happen, but the Lightfoot administration can’t afford to dawdle. General Iron’s for sale sign’s already up.